This history remains relevant in the post-Dock Connector era because Apple has apparently gone further with Lightning: according to developers, every Lightning connector has its own individual serial number, so Apple could use a software update to disable unauthorized accessories—individually, or en masse if a single Lightning serial number is cloned multiple times. Will this actually happen? No one really knows. But if it does, unauthorized accessories such as Photojojo’s new Lightning SD Card Reader ($20) might well be targeted.
We sympathize heavily with both Photojojo and this accessory’s unnamed original developer, because the Lightning SD Card Reader is conceptually great. Just like Apple’s original iPad Camera Connection Kit, it bundles an SD Card reader with a full-sized USB port for one price, then goes further by including a Micro SD Card reader as well. All three features are integrated into a single 2.05” wide by 1.55” tall by 0.45” thick white plastic accessory that’s fairly easy to carry around, with a slightly elongated Lightning connector that will aid with some case compatibility. Best of all is the price: the $20 price tag isn’t just lower than Apple’s old $29 asking price for the original Dock Connector-based iPad Camera Connection Kit—it’s around 1/3 the price of buying Apple’s current-generation Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader and Lightning to USB Camera Adapter, which now disappointingly sell for $29 each, or $58 together.
So it’s a good thing that the Lightning SD Card Reader does in fact work with the fourth-generation iPad and iPad mini, and does what it’s expected to do—at least, in our testing with iOS 6.0 and 6.1. Plug an SD Card in, and Apple’s Photos app launches automatically, rapidly reading images off your memory card onto your iPad. Connect a non-iOS camera using the USB port, and the same photo transfer features work there, too.
The Lightning SD Card Reader does have some noteworthy issues, though. For whatever reason, we noticed that its USB port didn’t work properly when there’s a Lightning device on the other end, such as if you try to connect an iPhone 5 to a fourth-generation iPad for photo editing. Similarly, for reasons unknown, the Reader sometimes didn’t work until we turned it upside down in the iPad’s Lightning port. And, despite images on the accessory’s packaging, the “correct” position of the SD Card is actually upside down relative to the top labeling on the accessory. If you try to insert the card in the seemingly correct way, you’ll strip off part of its label. Photojojo’s web site shows the card in the proper orientation.
On a related note, it’s worth mentioning that Photojojo’s web site stays away from making additional connectivity promises for the accessory: it doesn’t reference the USB port’s potential compatibility with musical accessories or traditional wired keyboards. Only the Lightning SD Card Reader’s OEM packaging, which calls it the “iPad Connection Kit (3-in-1 for iPad 4 & mini iPad”), makes what turns out to be an unwarranted and grammatically screwy claim that the adapter “support external keyboards input when connect normal USB keyboard to iPad.” In actuality, it doesn’t. However, musical accessories we tried generally worked.
Although we appreciate what Photojojo’s trying to do for iPad users, the Lightning SD Card Reader turns out to be a somewhat more difficult accessory to actually recommend. Photojojo deserves praise for attempting to offer photography buffs a more affordable and arguably more convenient photo importation alternative for their Lightning-equipped iPads—$20 is surely closer to the “right” price for simple card reading and USB port functionality than the $58 Apple charges for its now separated camera accessories. And when the Lightning SD Card Reader works, it’s every bit as fast and capable as Apple’s accessories. However, the shaky performance we saw under certain circumstances doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and prospective users need to be aware that the accessory might be fully disabled via a future software update. If you’re willing to assume the risks, and deal with this accessory’s kinks, consider the Lightning SD Card Reader worthy of its low asking price.